Friday, April 2, 2010

Some Thoughts on Spring, Cyclists, and the Anti-Cyclist

A proper allocation of space from copenhagenize

Well at least in Plattsburgh, spring has sprung, with nice 70's and clear sky's, it will get back to 60's next week though, which is just fine by me.

What does that mean though? Yes it means planting time and all the birds are out and flowers are coming up and all those nice things. It is also a time where there are a whole heck of a lot of cyclists out and about. These people have been cooped up in their cars over winter, fearing the harshness of a North Country blizzard and freeze, I don’t fault them for that really, I am the crazy one seeing as I am out in pretty much every element with 5 layers on. I am glad they are on their bikes though, and the weather is perfect.

For those of you who do not live in bike friendly areas (e.g. most of the US, Canada, and Australia) this is a time for another type of person to come out of hibernation. Can you guess who it might be?
I will give you a second... and a quote from a blog I happened to stumble upon while trying to find a picture, it sickens me, (and fills me with anger, I took the quote and had to leave, I am still angry actually) and illustrates my point nicely, I will not link to the hate filled post, you can do a word search for it if you wish.
You know who these people are. The cyclists who decide they can ride their bike down the side of – even middle, if they’re that rare kind of asshole – of busy public streets, holding up traffic and inducing in drivers flights of both panic (“oh my god, if this guy falls I will run him over”) and rage (“I hope this motherfucker falls, because then I get to run him over”). I hate you people. I don’t care if there are rules stating you shouldn’t be riding on the sidewalks; that maybe the side of the road is your designated riding area. Get on the sidewalk anyway, you overly-fit pricks. You have no idea how much every non-cyclist hates you
Ok times up, its the "get the hell of my road you dirty cyclist" type of person. Although usually they are not that kind with their words.

This is something interesting I noticed, since I have been cycling long distance here starting in early September, I have maybe had 2 or 3 honkers, 1 yeller and 1-3 near side swipes total, basically until this week, especially during the winter months I maybe had 1 or 2 altercations total.

Today I had 1 honk and 1 near side swipe on the ride in, 1 honk and yell(A**hole, same person for both) while heading from campus to the co-op, at least 3 near side swipes heading home and another honk (multiple from the same person actually, quite aggressive). Just today, I have almost equaled the animosity shown to me since September.

I will not give an inch, they can honk yell do whatever but I am going to ride where it is safe for me, and safe for them and that means taking a lane on a 4 lane 35mph road (btw nobody goes 35 its usually close to 50 on this stretch, nobody enforces, because nobody goes the speed limit). It means I will follow NY state law and ride as close to the shoulder as is safe, which actually means 3-4 feet out since the shoulder is a mess of rocks, glass, potholes, drains, and a 3 inch concrete curbing.

Do I get scared when these things happen, absolutely, my heart starts pumping, the fight or flight instinct kicks in, and the adrenalin starts to flow, for sure.

This is why cyclists here and in many bike-unfriendly communities, ride on the sidewalk.

While technically it is not safer to be on the sidewalk and in many cases its much more dangerous, one does not have to deal with almost being run over multiple times a day or getting swore at.

It’s almost enough to make me join them, almost. Except that I know that I will be giving in to the demands of the motorists; that they will have won. How sad is it that it has to be US vs THEM confrontation? As a budding transportation planner, I will have to plan for cars, even if my focus is cycling and walking, I understand this. Cars are not inherently evil; I welcome the electric car in many ways. (its usually the drivers actually)

This is one of the main reasons why I firmly believe that bike lanes and paint on the ground are not what will change culture in this country; there is no sharing the road with many motorists. Ironically, all but one incident happened on a dedicated shared and signed roadway that officially states to share the road with cyclists. Many motorists begrudgingly do share it with me, but the few who don't are in 4000lb steel cages which can quite easily kill me. That distinction is important. True the percent of drivers who threaten me is extremely low, however the few who do, can do me great harm.

In order to affect a culture shift we need to have fully separated infrastructure with bikes having priority at lights and intersections as well as on certain low mph streets and zones. We need to have what the Netherlands have, what Denmark has, what many other European countries have.

We need to separate the cyclist, from the pedestrian, from the car. Each is its own unique form of movement and each requires its own infrastructure. If we do not do that, then this country I fear is doomed to single digit cycling numbers for a very long time.

Nothing has made me surer of that than today.

I was talking with my girlfriend about my tiredness even after a mile on my rural rout; I could go 2.7+ miles in Leeds and be sweating, but not hurting. My diet is pretty much the same, but what I realized was in Leeds, on the route I took, I could move faster than the cars and buses, speeds were low (relative) and it was a very urban area. I also had panted lines all the way to the university, else 20mph residential zones. It was easier on my mind to bike in Leeds, I had less to worry about, yes I got yelled at once and had an egg thrown at me, but despite that, it was a much more pleasant trip. Despite the fact, it was hillier and had more traffic lights (although no stop signs, since there are very few in the UK).

My commute every day is on rural routs with cars and trucks going 50mph+ past me through a little over half my commute, in town I am pretty ok, I use residential side streets mostly and have little problem. That rural bit is taxing me quite a bit it seems, such that I may be feeling some physical pain from it.

Its just a theory but seems to make sense.

We need more cyclists who actually ride in the road, it would help a lot, but I fear that many would stop riding if they had to ride in the road, the police do no cite cyclists on the sidewalk because well they believe it to be safer (I think) despite it being against state law. If I was just getting on my bike here, hell yes the sidewalk is safer, we have one painted bike lane in town (yes one) and 2 longer distance multiuse paths that don’t connect to anything. That’s it.

I am mixed about advocating for following the law, when the law is not the safest option here, I want to do what safe and yes nationally I know the numbers, but it sure as hell does not feel safe when you bike on the roads in a lot of the town.

Educating cyclists on the danger of sidewalk riding is all I can do, I know I have inspired a number of people to get on a bike, ones who may not have done so before, that I call a success.

Educating drivers on why cyclists are where they are and the dangers that make them be where they are, is something I want to do as well. The above quote fits right into the education part of this.

Somehow I don't think education will make much difference...

For now I will ride like I have since September, maybe it’s the new bike they are honking at and they think it looks nice ;)

[update 4/4/10]
Urban Simplicity over in Buffalo NY also covered this topic briefly in a post yesterday, for more reading you can head over to that wonderful blog. Urban Simplicity

1 comment:

  1. Haven't read your blog in a while, John, but this post was interesting. I'm currently in China, where bikes are obviously a bigger part of the culture. Bike lanes run throughout the city (Shanghai), and the pedestrian-only part of the sidewalks are clearly distinguished by tiled pavers. As a pedestrian, I get extremely po'ed when bicyclists here ride on the sidewalk and not the bike lane, so kudos to you for not being one of those people.

    Another thought: bikes get stolen all the time here; in my group of 16 people, 6 bikes have been swiped within the past 1.5 months. Often, people will steal bikes and sell them to shops. You can see bike shops sawing off the locks all the time. Do you think that, if the US does adopt bikes as part of the culture, they'd face the same problem?